Issue: September 27, 2008

It's not unexpected for fruit trees to blossom in the fall /
Nanking cherry can be grown in parts of New Mexico


I wonder if you have seen something like this. There is a small cherry tree that has a few flowers on it in my daughter's back yard in Albuquerque. It is a very confused tree. Is this a response to a day length cue? Or what?

Peggy W.


I have had several calls about fruit trees blooming this fall (late summer) from several parts of New Mexico. It is not an unheard of occurrence and something that I remember from my youth in southeast Texas (so this is not a uniquely New Mexico occurrence).

Fall blossoming in fruit trees (and other spring flowering trees and shrubs) can occur if the tree is stressed during the summer (heat, drought, etc.). While stressed, the tree may become dormant, and then when the weather moderates, if conditions are just right, the tree comes out of dormancy and flowers as if it were springtime. The trees do not usually expend all their blossom buds at this time, so there should be more flowers next spring, and hopefully fruit (cherries in this case).

Spring flowering trees and shrubs form their flower buds in the late summer, so timing is a factor and the reason this does not happen every year. There was sufficient moisture as the buds formed, and then the environmental stresses induced dormancy, but the dormancy ended at a time when the temperatures appropriate for flowering occurred. There will not be time before frost for any fruit that formed to mature.


What is a Nanking cherry? Will it grow in New Mexico? Is it worth growing?


The Nanking cherry is a member of the same genus as the sweet and sour cherries, but in a different species. It is Prunus tomentosa.

This plant can be grown in many parts of New Mexico, and is best suited to the Middle Rio Grande valley, northern New Mexico, and higher elevation areas.

The cherries it produces are smaller than the familiar sweet cherries and have a greater proportion of pit (seed). The flavor is fairly good, but because of the lower percentage of flesh, more work to get enough for eating. The plant is not a tree like the other cherries, rather it is a shrub. It has very attractive flowers in the spring and may develop pleasing fall color in its foliage in the fall. While not able to survive without irrigation, it can be grown with relatively little irrigation. This is a plant that New Mexican gardeners can consider for their multipurpose landscapes (flowers, fall color, and edible fruits).

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!